Tag Archives: driving

Video Game Driving

15 Feb

If I were not a technological dinosaur, I would currently be raking in the dough from the brilliant video game I’d have made called “Driving in Small Town Mexico.” (Okay, maybe I need a catchier name.) As it is, however, I’m just wasting gas money living in my video game reality, trying to get from Point A to Point B without any accidents.


Driving with Abuelo 

Of course everyone driving anywhere is trying to do so accident-free. But if you’re accustomed to driving in the US, or some other place where there are rules and infrastructure relevant to driving, then you don’t really understand. Let me tell you a little about what my video game would look like. Remember, however, this is not a video game; this is actually a surreal, daily, real-life experience. Woo hoo!


Khalil practicing hailing a taxi 

You’re in the heart of the “city,” and you’re dealing with all this: A man pushing a wheelbarrow full of papaya in the street, in the lane of traffic beside the parked cars, going in the opposite direction of traffic! Speed bump! People parked halfway in the lane of traffic! A woman with a big bicycle push-cart selling fruit flavored water, with a toddler riding on top as well! Speed bump! People parked fully in the lane of traffic, with emergency blinkers on! Huge groups of teenagers leaving school with a dizzying array of junk food- popsicles, fried tacos, candy, homemade chip-like salty greasy food, homemade donuts (Don’t look! Don’t hit any of them even when they walk directly in front of your car! Remain in the middle of the intersection trying to turn despite oncoming traffic!) A motorcycle that’s swerving in and out of traffic! Speed bump! A grown woman that just decided to cross the street without looking in either direction beforehand! Another motorcycle with four people on it, also nearly crashing! A truck full of dubiously precarious bricks that look like they’re about to come crashing down on top of someone any minute! Speed bump! A bulldozer going .05 miles an hour! All of the other cars trying to go around the bulldozer even though there’s not space to safely do so! Speed bump! 


photo from bigskysouthernsky blog on wordpress. This is one kind of speed bump around here. There are several types, and there are really EVERYWHERE. 


A bicycle cart- image from Google. 

At the big intersections, you must avoid hitting any of the people standing or walking essentially in the middle of the road! The people selling pineapple juice, the people trying to wash your windshield in exchange for spare change, the traveler kids hula hooping or spinning fire for spare change, the just-out-of-the-hospital folks asking for help on crutches or with pee bags hanging out of their clothes or other major noticeable health problems, the occasional small child walking through the stopped cars selling something useless, the people in the middle of the road just trying to cross the damn busy street. Green light! Those traffic lights are great, let me tell you.

In other parts of town, however, there is the dilemma over who has the right away at many unmarked, stop-light-free, sign-free intersection. Often you know that you have the right-of-way, but does the car coming up the other street believe that as well? Who is going to stop? Then there are the intersections where neither street is bigger or more trafficked than the other, so who has any idea who has the right-away? I don’t. I drive slowly and cross my fingers a lot. At some intersections, it’s unclear even which part of the road is the lane for each direction, particularly when there are three different possible roads to turn down at the intersection. (Who planned these roads, anyway? Some of them appear to have been done by some haphazardly working drunk.) This is why there is a lot of praying on the road in Mexico. This is why there are so many religious objects in people’s cars, in taxis, even on public buses. Every day that you don’t crash is a small miracle.

But wait! The game continues! To arrive home, you must drive through a neighborhood. You might think you’re in the country, what with the dirt road once you get a couple blocks away from the main road. But you’re really less than 2 miles from downtown. There’s a one lane bridge: who goes first? Will the motorcyclist want to play chicken? Speed bump! Dog in the road! Chicken in the road! Toddler in the road! Speed bump made out of dirt! Big dip in the road- slow down! Really old guy pushing his ice cream cart in the road! Surprise dirt speed bump somebody must have made while you were out! Children out with their mama’s errand bag in the road! A big curve in the road where you can’t see an oncoming car because someone built a giant fence around their house at such a perfect angle! A whole herd of goats! More children! Slippery mud because somebody’s washing clothes and there’s nowhere else for the water to go! More adults in the road! Another car- scoot over because there’s barely enough room for both of you! 

I think that in the video game, the objective will be the same as my real-life objective: get where you are going as fast as you can without any accidents- not even a chicken hurt. Would you like this game? Should I invest? Would you, or do you, like the thrills of driving in small town Mexico? Where have you driven (or ridden around) where it feels like a wild video game?

Here’s a map of Puerto Escondido to give you an idea of the layout.

Watch out for children and piñatas in the road at all times!

A Flawless Foray into the Big City

17 Mar


Perhaps both children vomiting all over themselves in the car doesn’t sound like an auspicious beginning to an utterly delightful outing. Obviously, then, you’ve never voyaged upon the seven-plus hours of winding, two-lane “highway” between Puerto Escondido and Oaxaca City. You have no idea how bad it could have been.

Because Conan was scheduled to work on Saturday and Sunday, I originally decided I would go up in the public vans on Friday night. The last time we made this trek, when Khalil was two months old, we’d gone in a van at night and everyone had survived. Conan slept through it all that time (while I was covered in children, not sleeping), so I was sure I could do it alone. Apparently, however, I underestimated the chances of my kids waking up to vomit. So just imagine! I have been in the public vans plenty with puking children (mostly not my children), and let me tell you, half the time that driver doesn’t even slow down. It could have been so, so ugly.

But it wasn’t! Because Conan got someone to work for him on Sunday and we have a car that actually does car-like things, such as take you places. The miracles abound! So there we were, over four years in to living here, finally in our very own private transportation for this billionth trip to Oaxaca. We got baby vomit on our very own car seats at last!!!

Additionally in the “dodging bullets- aka winning” section of events, I narrowly avoided meeting a long-last family member of Conan’s when he realized we were in their neighborhood in Oaxaca City. Don’t get me wrong; meeting new in-laws is normally a rollercoaster I can ride. However, at midnight, when your eyes feel like they’re glued semi-shut and your mouth is dry like 3 day old tortillas and you’ve been in a car for 8 hours and you’re drowsy on Dramamine and your children still reek of vomit and darling, these relatives are not even expecting us– that’s not even a rollercoaster, it’s just a train wreck tale in the making.

So we continued on to our dear friends’ house, where they were totally expecting sleepy, confused, slightly smelly guests at midnight. We are so lucky to have adoring friends-turned-family who graciously accept us and our pukey children at any hour of the night with open arms and smiles. We are so ridiculously privileged to live in Oaxaca, where guests are synonymous with royalty. Our hosts greeted us lovingly, chatted for a few minutes, and left us to rest in their comfy bed. These folks are the reason I always rule out doing our bureaucratic business in Mexico City. Even as I washed vomit out of car seats the next day, I thought, “Airplanes are fun, but there’s no Argelia and Magaly in Mexico City. Totally not worth it.”


When we asked Lucia later what she liked the best about the trip, she replied, “When we ate the broccoli at Arge’s house.” Since we eat broccoli once a week at our house, and I cooked the broccoli like I do at home regularly, I have no idea why this was wondrous for her. Children are a mysterious species. Apparently Oaxaca City made a serious impression on her this time, though, because she nonchalantly told my mother-in-law later that she’s planning to move to Oaxaca. She refrained from specifying a date, so I can only speculate about her intentions.

My favorite part of the trip, in contrast, was when we did something novel. I liked it when we went to an actual park with more than three trees, and with a gorgeous view of the valley that is Oaxaca City. I loved the swings hanging from trees, swings made out of slats of wood. I loved our easy feast of quesadillas, cucumber, and watermelon.

I loved that the non-parent-people in our group didn’t get mad or upset when we didn’t do the two mile hike that we originally mentioned (ummm that was never, ever going to come to fruition with the little people). I loved that when my about-to-turn-two-year-old resolutely and rapidly took off his diaper and shook his two year old penis at the sky before peeing, all the other families thought it was funny and endearing. Nobody called the police or child protective services on my child and his rebelliously naked butt. (Granted, it was temporary nudity, but still.)

I loved loved loved fulfilling my new self-imposed obligation to seize all interesting opportunities, to try all the new things. (I’d like to thank the current political climate and brilliant author Shonda Rhimes!) It helps that our friends are so open-spirited, too. “What’s that?” I asked when I saw the zipline, “And how much does it cost?” Instantly, Argelia was already grabbing me by the elbow and leading me to the action. Magaly agreed to be the fearless distraction expert for the little ones. Arge volunteered to be our fearless leader and slide herself over the cliff first, since she’d done it before somewhere else. She wasn’t actually fearless, though; it took a little coaxing to get her to push herself out into the abyss. Even when you’ve decided to be fearless, that shit just creeps back up on you. I had to hold my breath and close my eyes, too, to convince myself. It was, in fact, really fun, and I’ll absolutely be doing it again the next chance I get!

Here we go:



You can just barely see Arge zipping across there.

To top off a perfectly fabulous day, we finished things off by drinking beers (those of us who drink) and (gasp) playing cards! More of my favorite things!!!! Can life get any better? I suspect not.

While playing cards, we discussed the fact that this kind of fun doesn’t happen among women in small towns. Argelia is certainly not a small town girl in spirit. She’s petite but packed with a giant personality that couldn’t really fit into her tiny mountain town. Now Argelia plays cards and drinks beer, and can even play a little pool, but only thanks to all these years in Oaxaca City and Magaly’s wonderful influence and big-city girl privilege. Magaly is from Mexico City originally. I knows she’s from a big city because she knows how to do all the things the girls from small towns almost never learn. Magaly knows how to play pool. She knows how to play cards. She knows how to drive a car. She knows how to drive a motorcycle. She knows how to ride a bicycle. She likes to drink beer for fun. She was allowed to have all kinds of fun in life. I’d bet money that she knows how to play a musical instrument, too, although I forgot to ask her. Granted, it’s not that all of those things are expressly forbidden to girls in small towns. They just tend to not happen, if you want to put it in apolitical terms.

The next day was dedicated to bureaucracy and travel (aka destined for disaster). And yet it was nowhere near as disastrous as it has been in the past. I didn’t spend hours crying and agonizing over how to “forge” my own signature, for starters. Our friends whisked my mischievous two year old away to have fun outside of the consular office. The (woman) security guard was ridiculously nice, telling me that I did, indeed, have time to hurry and guzzle a coffee downstairs, just when my caffeine downer threatened to knock me out right there in the back row of hard plastic chairs. Once our turn came, it turned out that we had successfully brought the right-sized photo and all the other correct paperwork. There were no excessive questions, not even dirty looks. When the in-charge person asked about one document that looked slightly dodgy, and I shrugged and affirmed that that’s precisely how it came from the dodgy organization known as my insurance company, she accepted it without further ado. It was, by far, the least stressful passport situation we’ve dealt with thus far, considering our ridiculous number of visits and renewals and such for this multi-nationality family.

The adults in our group had started having mini-meltdowns  from hunger by the time we were finished with our obligations, but we made it to a restaurant before any violence broke out. We forgot the childrens’ balloons that Arge and Magaly bought them, but there was only a small panic attack on Lucia’s part, and we hoped that some other kids found them later.

For the trip home, I got smart and got the Dramamine for Kids. Khalil vomited his dose about 10 seconds after taking it, which was totally best case scenario! I had zero doubts about re-dosing him, plus the puke was only on his pajamas and Arge’s floor, allowing for relatively easy clean-up. Another win for our trip! Additionally, nobody puked in the car. Our car delivered us to our door without breaking down or even making new, worrisome noises (thank you, Conan, for being the fearless driver)! A good time was had by all!

May all our future outings, and yours, be as optimal as this one!

My School Bus Sedan

24 Jan

I’d be destined for jail if the supposedly existing seatbelt law were anything more than some distant formality that only exists on paper somewhere. In the states I’d have all kinds of extra charges, I’m sure, of reckless endangerment and who knows what kinds of other great stuff they could drum up. For now, though, I live in small town Southern Mexico, and I drive a 4-door school bus at liberty.*

I drive half of my kids’ kindergarten home in a four-door Nissan Sentra. There are only fifteen kids at this fabulous school, so the six- and sometimes seven- that I chauffeur around town is only minimally outrageous. It’s perfectly in keeping with that aspect of Mexican spirit that I so appreciate- making happen whatever needs to happen, despite the obstacles. It’s that spirit that causes folks to ride a motorcycle with a full-sized ladder, for example, or to tie a refrigerator on top of a taxi. It’s that spirit that made my mother-in-law encourage Conan to “just do some kind of home remedy” to fix the brakes on a borrowed car once: Extreme Driving, A Year- Round Oaxacan Sport. It’s why my weights for exercise are different sized plastic bottles filled with sand or concrete. Folks here tend to be much more creative in finding solutions when they don’t have the ideal resources or circumstances, and I love that about Mexico.


just waiting for the kids to get out of school

School buses don’t exist here, and vans use up too much gasoline. All four of us families in the carpool have small cars, so at least I don’t feel like we’re the only ones schlepping the kids around like sardines. I’m still so thrilled that we have any working car at all, I do a happy rain-dance sort of prayer/celebration every day I go outside and the car starts up.

It almost didn’t start on my second day of carpool, and my heart essentially stopped for several beats.“This cannot be happening already! We can’t be flaking out on the second day of carpool! This car cannot be as bad as the other one!” I might or might not have screamed at the trees and stray dogs. But then it did start and life continued to be well. Well, there’s a trick to it, and I think I’ve got it figured out. Good enough. 

I do a lot of screaming in the car, but not like you imagine with me as the bus driver. (I haven’t even cursed yet!) All of my screaming happens before the kids get in the car, when I’m screaming (aka singing) along with my music because (GASP) there’s a working CD player in the car! So I get 25 minutes of alone time with my jams before the seven little savages hop in the car. It’s really a brilliant set-up.

It takes me ten minutes to get out the door with all of them. The teachers help me get their shoes on, and even my almost-two-year-old (the 2nd youngest in the posse) can carry out his own lunch box. Despite that help, and despite telling myself that I’ll get faster at it with practice, somehow corralling them all is more time-consuming than I psyche myself up for it to be. Two weeks in, I’ve only gotten about one minute faster, and my measly minute is totally negated when one or more of the older kids are sleeping.

They hold hands in pairs to go out the door and get into the car. The baby of the crew (one year old) goes in the car seat in the back. Khalil and one other kid get strapped into the front seat (with the lap part of the seat belt). Then in the other two seats in back we squeeze in another 3 and sometimes 4 kids, obviously not with a seat belt because it just won’t go over all of them.

They are some very well-behaved savages, except for my two savages, of course, who feel more at liberty to throw tantrums because I’m the Mommy. So of course it’s always Lucia who’s screaming about something if there’s screaming happening. Sigh. It’s pretty easy to distract and entertain them all with fun games like, “Who’s not here? Raise your hand if you’re not here!” And we pretend that none of them are there. I love this age group (one to four). Mostly they entertain themselves, and if I really need to distract them, all I have to do is encourage them to talk about bodily functions and fluids. Poop is their number one idea of fun discourse these days.

The kids sometimes enjoy my music-fest as well. Lucia is currently obsessed with a Sleater-Kinney song. When I play it she and Khalil tap their fingers and wave their arms in time to the music. (I can’t imagine where they learned to dance in the car. Ahem.) A couple of the other kids mentioned that they liked one of the songs I was listening to, too. They will surely be finger-dancing with us eventually.

Lucia’s current favorite jam

Really, carpool with the kids is kind of a blast.

Thanks to the universe and Conan’s savvy in car shopping, we found an automatic car in the right price range- which is not the easiest task around here. The original plan was for us to get a standard, and I was going to learn how to drive a stick. I already had a teacher lined up. Being the brilliant procrastinator that I am, however, I didn’t get lessons before buying a car. So by the time we were buying the car I would’ve had about 2 days to learn how to drive it before rolling across town, navigating the countless speed bumps, the holes in the road, the motorcycles swerving around cars unexpectedly, with a carload of small children loaded in.  “And on top of that you want to be learning something new?” Conan asked, shaking his head at my shrug and grin. (Perhaps I’ve adopted some of that “I’ll make it work anyway” attitude. Thank you, you wonderful Mexican folks, for teaching me this important life skill.)

Despite my nonchalance, I was a train wreck of nerves the first day I had to go get everyone. I had to call my mom to talk myself back into calm (okay, this might be a frequent occurrence). She reminded me that I do actually know how to drive, AND it’s far from being my first day driving in Puerto. And I’m certainly not worried about dealing with the seven small savages; two of them are mine, and the rest are sweet and lovely little savages, too. I got this.

So I didn’t panic that first day when there was some random rerouting lane-share happening for no apparent reason. The traffic cop didn’t even look twice at me when I passed again with a boatload of children. Totally rocked it. All was fine.

I sweated a bit that first Friday, though, when I thought I picked up a kid by mistake. There’s one little boy who goes to his dad’s house some days and his mom’s house other days. When he goes to his dad’s, he’s part of our carpool, but not when he goes to his mom’s. Well, another parent asked me to pick him up one day, and I thought that maybe his dad hadn’t been able to get ahold of me or something. I stopped at the usual spot but no one was there. I called his dad and he assured me that no, it was not his day. I pictured the little boy’s mom going to pick him up, frustrated that I’d taken him by accident and possibly questioning my faculties. The parent who had called me about him didn’t answer the phone. I wiped the sweat from my brow and drove on to the next drop-off spot, where, luckily, the boy was, indeed, supposed to be going, to go play with another girl in the carpool.

It’s true that driving here is not at all like driving in the US, but it’s not as tricky or scary as Conan might make it sound. Nobody can drive all that fast, thanks to all the speed bumps, pedestrians in the street, animals, bicycle carts, and other random road blocks. One day last week half of the highway-two lanes, for about a block’s stretch- was closed off for what appeared to be some kind of festival they were having in the middle of the road. (Highway is a loose term, I guess. There are two lanes going one direction and two going the other direction.) It’s never a dull moment on the road but it’s not rocket science to navigate, either. Many folks around here do it without ever having lessons even.

Of course, there are other things to navigate additionally, like the situation with the folks on the side of the road/in the middle of the road. Sometimes there are street performers who are juggling or spinning fire or hula hooping or something. Those are the traveling kids, I presume. There’s been a family selling some kind of blow-up toys at one big intersection. There’s another guy on crutches with only one complete leg who is often at one intersection asking for money. There’s another kid (adolescent, I suspect, although he could be in his twenties) who often asks for money at an intersection, who calls me “madre” and blesses me, even the days I haven’t had any change to give.

Then there are several different guys who seem to take turns at a couple different intersections, cleaning windshields for change. Now, this is a great service in our dusty, sandy town, as pretty much everyone’s windows need cleaning every single day to be in optimal condition. Furthermore, they are working, providing a service, and not just asking for money, and I get that for many people that encourages them to give. (Not that I have drama with people asking for money because they have no other options. I think that’s a hard and nasty job in its way, and I am not judging them, especially when I don’t have a clue what circumstances have forced them into that position.) But apparently I have a sign on my head that says, “Please wash my car, no matter what I say,” because almost all of these guys are aggressively insistent with me. Is it because I’m a woman? Because I’m light-skinned? Because I look foreign? Some of it is just them, perhaps, because it does happen to Conan some, too. I’ve learned to have a few coins ready every day, like a “highway” toll I pay to someone or the other every day. I feel pretty lucky that I can spare a few pesos every day now.

In general, I’m thrilled about so many aspects of my mini school bus drive. I’m pleased to be one of the school bus drivers for our kids and their friends. I’m so pleased that Conan and I are now able to share the burden of labor and gas money. I’m so happy that my kids are stoked to see me, and that now Lucia isn’t the only ones whose parents never go to school to get her.

I miss my daily walks and bus rides with Khalil, in which we grunt and scream at the sight of every dump truck, bus, and other large vehicles/heavy machinery. My body doesn’t much appreciate driving in place of walking, but it’s still a totally worthwhile tradeoff, for my kids to go to a school we all feel good about. I’m ecstatic for Khalil to be in “school” with his big sister, instead of at home destroying my house out of boredom.

All in all, getting this carpool thing down is another daily adventure. Similar to riding my bike to and from work- navigating through the sand and around the rocks and without splashing mud on my clothes and carrying rocks to scare off the mean dogs- driving the carpool is another daily task that makes me feel like I’m living a video game.  I can only hope that your daily commute is half as interesting and fun as mine. And if not, I humbly suggest that you change it up, and at the very least, add some finger-dancing to the mix.



*Don’t get me wrong: I am a seatbelt fanatic under other circumstances. My dad, a photographer for the police department, used to bring home pictures of accidents to teach us about the importance of seat belts if we were in rebellion over it. My parents wouldn’t start the car if we didn’t have seat belts on.  And it makes good sense; it’s an easy, simple, free thing to do that is likely to save your life. And yet that is not the reality that we live in; it’s just not always possible, as I’ve written about before.